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The Siege of Savannah was an encounter of the American Revolutionary War in 1779. The year before, the city of Savannah, Georgiamarker, had been capturedmarker by a Britishmarker expeditionary corps under Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell. The siege itself consisted of a joint Franco-American attempt to retake Savannah from September 16 to October 18, 1779. On October 9 a major assault against the British siege works failed. During the attack, Polish nobleman Kazimierz Pułaski, fighting on the Americanmarker side, was mortally wounded. With the failure of the joint American-French attack, the siege failed, and the British remained in control of Savannah until July 1782, close to the end of the war.

The battle is much remembered in Haitianmarker history; the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, consisting of over 500 gens de couleurfree men of color from Saint-Domingue—fought on the Frenchmarker side. Henri Christophe, who later became king of independent Haiti, is thought to have been among these troops. Many other less notable Haitians served in this unit and formed the officer class of the rebel armies in the Haitian Revolution, especially in the North Province around today's Cap Haitienmarker where the unit was recruited.


Following the failures of military campaigns in the northern United Statesmarker earlier in the American Revolutionary War, British military planners decided to embark on a "southern strategy" to conquer the rebellious colonies with the support of Loyalist in the southern states. Their first step was to gain control of the southern ports of Savannah, Georgiamarker and Charleston, South Carolinamarker. An expedition in December 1778 captured Savannahmarker with modest resistance from ineffective militia and Continental Army defenses. The Continental Army regrouped, and by June 1779 the combined army and militia forces guarding Charleston numbered between 5,000 and 7,000 men. General Benjamin Lincoln, commanding those forces, knew that he could not recapture Savannah without naval assistance; for this he turned to the Frenchmarker, who had entered the war as an American ally in 1778.

French Admiral the Comte d'Estaing spent the first part of 1779 in the Caribbeanmarker, where his fleet and a British fleet monitored each others movements. He took advantage of conditions to capture Grenada in July before acceding to American requests for support in operations against Savannah. On September 3, an uncharacteristically early arrival as there was still substantial risk of hurricanes, a few French ships arrived at Charleston with news that d'Estaing was sailing for Georgia with 25 ships of the line and 4,000 French troops. Lincoln and the French emissaries agreed on a plan of attack on Savannah, and Lincoln left Charleston with over 2,000 men on September 11.

British defenses

British troop strength in the area consisted of about 1,500 regulars at Savannah, another 900 at Beaufort, South Carolinamarker under Col. John Maitland, and about 100 Loyalists at Sunbury, Georgiamarker. General Augustine Prevost, in command of these troops from his base in Savannah, was caught completely off guard when the French fleet began to arrive off Savannah. Harnessing slave labor, his engineers directed the construction nearly of defenses on the plains outside the city. Prevost also recalled the troops from Beaufort and Sunbury.


D'Estaing began landing troops below the city on September 12. By September 16 he was moving in on the city. Confident of victory, and believing that Maitland would be prevented from reaching Savannah by Lincoln, he offered Prevost the opportunity to surrender. Prevost temporized and asked for 24 hours of truce. Owing to miscommunication about who was responsible for preventing Maitland's movements, the waterways separating Hilton Head Islandmarker from the mainland were unguarded, and Maitland was able to reach Savannah hours before the truce ended. Prevost's response to d'Estaing's offer was a polite rejection, even though Lincoln had also arrived outside the city.

The French commander, rejecting the idea of assaulting the British defenses, unloaded cannons from his ships and began a bombardment of the city. The city, rather than the entrenched defenses, bore the brunt of this bombardment, which lasted from October 3 to 8. "The appearance of the town afforded a melancholy prospect, for there was hardely a house that had not been shot through", wrote one British observer.

When the bombardment failed to have the desired effect, d'Estaing changed his mind, and decided it was time to try an assault. He was motivated in part by the desire to finish the operation quickly, as scurvy and dysentery were becoming problems on his ships, and some of his supplies were running low. While a traditional siege operation would likely have succeeded eventually, it would have taken longer than d'Estaing was prepared to stay.


Against the advice of many of his subordinates, d'Estaing launched the assault against the British position on the morning of October 9. The attack depended in part on the secrecy of some its aspects, which were betrayed to Prevost well before the operations were supposed to begin around 4 am. Fog caused troops attacking the Spring Hill redoubt to get lost in the swamps, and it was nearly daylight when the attack finally got underway. The redoubt on the right side of the British works, had been chosen by the French admiral in part because he believed it to be defended only by militia. In fact, it was defended by a combination of militia and Scotsmen from Maitland's company, who had distinguished themselves at Stono Ferrymarker. The militia included riflemen, who easily picked off the white-clad French troops when the assault finally got underway. Admiral d'Estaing was twice wounded, and Polish cavalry officer Kazimierz Pułaski, fighting with the Americans, was mortally wounded. By the time the second wave arrived near the redoubt, the first wave was in complete disarray, and the trenches below the redoubt were filled with bodies. Attacks intended as feints against other parts of the British position were easily repulsed.

After an hour of carnage, d'Estaing ordered the retreat. On October 17, Lincoln and d'Estaing abandoned the siege.


The battle was one of the bloodiest of the war. While Prevost claimed Franco-American losses at 1,000 to 1,200, the actual tally of 228 killed and nearly 600 wounded, was severe enough. British casualties were comparatively light: 40 killed, 63 wounded, and 52 missing. Sir Henry Clinton wrote, "I think that this is the greatest event that has happened the whole war", and celebratory cannons were fired when the news reached Londonmarker.


In 2005 archaeologists with the Coastal Heritage Society and the LAMAR Institute discovered portions of the British fortifications at Spring Hill, the site of the brunt of the combined French and American attack on October 9. The find represents the first tangible remains of the battlefield. In 2008 the CHS/LAMAR Institute archaeology team discovered another segment of the British fortifications in Madison Square.

This event is commemorated each year by presidential proclamation on General Pulaski Memorial Day.


  1. Morrill, p. 60
  2. Morrill, p. 64

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